Here I am, diving into my first year Architecture degree without any previous knowledge of the subject. A few days ago I decided to look some stuff up. On my search for inspirational modern architects I noticed most, if not all architects listed happened to be – you guessed it – male. Obviously most men, like women, have earned their rightful titles and fame in the field. But the number of women who I, as a female and future architect, can look up to for inspiration was underwhelming.

As I scrolled down lists and articles, one name stood out. Born Zaha Mohammad Hadid in 1950, the Iraqi-born, British architect was one of the most internationally acclaimed architects of our time. She was also unapologetically a woman.

Zaha Hadid

Hadid was born to a wealthy family in Iraq, who sent her to the UK and later Switzerland to be educated in various boarding schools. Her higher studies started at the American University of Beirut, then the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. She established a London-based practice (her first) in 1980. The MoMA exhibition, Deconstructivism in Architecture, which she collaborated on with a few other contemporary architects, became Hadid’s first big hit. With it she established her roots in the deconstructivism movement.

Later in her career Hadid taught in renown colleges and universities such as the University of Illinois, Ohio State University, Columbia University, Yale University and the University of Applied Arts. She also designed clothing, jewelry and furniture in her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects.


1. Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany (1994)

Her first constructed work, the Vitra Fire Station in Germany, captures the architect’s angular style. The building, aligned with the road in front of it, is stretched in a way that gives a feeling of movement, as if we were looking at a snapshot of a moment in time. The fire station was later used as a museum and, at Hadid’s passing, a memorial where people laid flowers in her honor.

2. Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, China (2010)

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Hadid entered and won a competition to design the opera house, utilizing neo-futuristic characteristics to blend the structure into Guangzhou’s skyline. The geometric forms and folds create the look of a pebble flattened by a stream, to fit perfectly with the riverside. The opera house soon became a catalyst for the development of new cultural facilities in the city.

3. Evelyn Grace Academy, Brixton, UK (2001)

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Hadid, again, uses the effect of movement in her design for ARK Education’s Evelyn Grace Academy, made up of four schools. The angles and zig-zags among the building, corridors and sports facilities (field and track), along with the transparent, open walls create a unified learning environment for students. The building design was praised for broadening educational diversity and expanding the built environment around it. Hadid won the Stirling Prize for this work in 2001.

4. Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Arts, Cincinnati OH, USA (2003)

The dynamic structure built in 2003 was the result of a design competition to remodel Cincinnati’s outdated Contemporary Arts Center. Hadid’s entry worked well both blending the Center the city’s busy streets and making it stand out. The design is also a great example of Hadid’s interest in constructivism and suprematism, both art movements which play with geometric forms and placement of structures.

5. Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg, Germany (2005)

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The angles and structures that Hadid uses in the Phaeno Science Center were made achievable by the use of self-contracting concrete. As the largest building in Europe made entirely out of concrete, it has served as a reference point for many architects to come. As complex and unusual its exterior may seem, the interior of the structure is organized into bridges, protrusions and pathways that allow open exhibit space.


What makes Zaha Hadid a bada**

Zaha Hadid was the first woman to earn the RIBA Gold Medal (2015) and the first arab woman to win the highest title in an architect’s career, the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2004). As a UK student looking to earn my architect license through the RIBA, I found it odd that no woman before was “apt” to earn the medal. But what a relief it was to see that it was possible. Hadid was also named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012. So, does this make her royalty? Architecture royalty?